Renaming of Camp 4
The Renaming of Camp 4.
For half a century Camp 4 has been the climbers’ base camp in Yosemite. Yet for most of that time, the National Park Services insisted in calling it “Sunnyside.” That difference came to symbolize the conflicts between climbers, the NPS, and the Curry Company. In 1999, the NPS acknowledged the end of decades of feuding by announcing the site’s name would once again be Camp 4. Now, an exchange of e mails between Gary Colliver of the NPS and Armando Menocal, Founder of the Access Fund, reveals how the historic change came about.
The Untold Story of the Renaming of Camp 4
By Armando Menocal
At the September, 1999, Celebration at Camp 4, the National Park Service announced that Camp 4 would be officially re-named “Camp 4”. Of course, its always been Camp 4 to climbers, but that name for the climber’s camp had stuck in the Park Service’s craw for half a century.
With the end of the first “Golden Era” of Yosemite climbing about 1970, and attempting to attract other than climbers, the Park redesignated Camp 4 as “Sunnyside”, even though all of the other campgrounds in the Valley retained their historic numerical designations.
Camp 4’s place as one of the centers of American and even international climbing culture has been documented in legend and literature. In 1969, Doug Robinson, wrote in Mountain that, “Camp 4 is the physical and spiritual home of the Yosemite climbers.” In a description that rings true almost 40 years later, Robinson said of Camp 4:
“In spite of the spectacular setting, it has become the most trampled and dusty, probably the noisiest, and certainly the least habitable of all Yosemite’s campgrounds. . . . Yet the Yosemite climber will stay nowhere else.”
The Park and Curry Company, Yosemite’s sole concessionaire, tried repeatedly to get rid of Camp 4. Of course, at first it was climbers that they wanted to constrain or remove by closing their refuge. Eventually, even Camp 4 became an anachronism to the authorities. Camp 4 remained small and cheap as Yosemite developed large campground suitable for behemoth Winabagos; a walk-in campground with irregular, often crowded, well lived-in sites was impossible to police or to cruise from a patrol car.
Preserving Camp 4 may have been one of the earliest climbing access causes, first championed by Raffi Bedayn, a Yosemite climber in the 1930s and 1940s and manufacturer of one of the first aluminum carabiners. For the next 30 years, Raffi took up the unpopular cause of defending Valley climbers. If they were climbers, it didn’t matter to Raffi that the Park Service or Curry Company saw them as low-life, scavengers, and petty thieves, which sometimes, some of them were. Whenever animosities were high between climbers and rangers, Raffi would show up at the Valley to ease tensions with his unassuming, irrepressible diplomacy. Raffi’s years of personal, hands-on service to the climbing community were recognized, and he was the first recipient of the American Alpine Club’s Angelo Heilprin Citation. After Raffi’s death, grateful climbers placed a memorial for Raffi at the base of Midnight Lighting on Columbia Boulder.
On the surface, the names Camp 4 or Sunnyside may not seem very important, but in fact the renaming represented a huge shift of official attitude. Refusing to acknowledge the climbers’ name for the most famous campsite in the climbing world was emblematic of the demeaning status of climbers in the Valley.
It is hard today to recall that at one time, climbers were regularly run from Yosemite Lodge (curiously, in the 80s Lodge employees were instructed not to give apparent climbers coffee refills), swept from Camp 4 and its parking lot (one Yosemite Superintendent told a group of climbers that their interests were as important to him “as a dumptruck load of dirt”), and its closure was threatened throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
Even in the massive Climbing Management Plan that the Park, climbers, and other conservationists developed in the 1990s, the NPS would not yield on the epithet, Sunnyside. The name had become the symbol of contention.
The struggle to save Camp 4 from “re-development” after the 1997 floods forced the Park Service to acknowledge and respect the role and history of climbers in the Valley. The final acknowledgement that the decades of feuding were over was when for the first time the Park Service announced that the site would thereafter be officially called Camp 4. The change was announcedat the September 1999 Celebration, and it brought grateful cheers from the hundreds of Valley climbers from the 60s, 70s, 80, and 90s.
The “back story” of how the change came about has never been disclosed. This is how it came about. It is revealed in the exchange of emails between Gary Colliver, a well-known Yosemite climber who had become one of the Park’s planners, and Armando Menocal, who had been a Yosemite activists since 1980 and a protégé of Raffi Bedayn, showing up everytime that Camp 4 was threaten with closure. Although often antagonists over climber issues, the two long time Valley climbers had become friends, even arguing over the climbing plan, when they climbed together.
Two weeks before the celebration, Armando wrote to Gary:
Hi there Gary.
I will not be at Camp 4 celebration this month. . . . I assume that the Park will have someone there speaking at the celebration, and I wanted to repeat (at least to you, and perhaps you'll pass along) that there's almost nothing that the NPS can do which will signal to climbers that the NPS gets the importance of Camp 4, than to rename it, "Camp 4." Think of what a great thing it would be to announce that at the celebration! The day after the announcement at the Celebration, Gary wrote back:
Talk of renaming has been going on for several years. I think you or Paul Minault [Access Fund Regional Coordinator] may have begun the discussion during our work on the Climbing Management Plan back in the early '90's. Hal Grovert, the previous Deputy Superintendent said we should do it over a year ago. Often the way things work here is that something is talked about on and on, but an actual decision is not made, recorded, or acted upon. As it happens, your mentioning it, caused me to once again mention it to Chip, who thought it a good idea and took it to the Superintendent the next morning, and the decision was made. So, if you and I (and others) had not been persistent and not lost hope in the process, and kept gently pushing the idea forward, it may have eventually occurred, but not at this auspicious moment. In fact, it may have been waiting and watching for the right time to mention it again that did the trick.
Thanks! Best wishes,
I think Raffi is looking up at Midnight Lightning with a small smile and reminding us to be content with small victories.
Armando Menocal climbed in Yosemite for 25 years with first ascents in the Valley and Sierra Nevada, including the first ascent of the West Face of Mt. Watkins. Now a rock and alpine climbing guide with Exum Mountain Guides, Armando lives in Wilson, Wyoming, and is spearheading introduction of climbing and guiding in Cuba. He is the creator ofwww.CubaClimbing.com, a complete guide to Cuba for climbers and other adventure travelers. Armando has been a human rights and environmental activist and is Founder of the Access Fund, the largest organization of climbers in America.